On June 25, 2019, Jim Burnley was quoted in Freight Waves on the unlikelihood that Congress will pass a federal surface transportation reauthorization bill before the 2020 presidential election. According to the article, the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act will expire as scheduled on September 30, 2020, forcing the federal Highway Trust Fund that pays for road projects to limp along on short-term appropriations extensions.
Burnley, who served as U.S. Secretary of Transportation at the end of President Reagan's tenure, said that the toxic climate in the nation's capital virtually precludes any chance of a transportation bill moving forward.
The FAST Act, signed into law in 2015, funded highway programs largely through deficit spending. The problem with that approach, according to Burnley, is that motor fuel tax receipts have been dropping as vehicles become ever more fuel-efficient. At the same time, the tab for the deficit spending continues to rise. Over the next five years, the Highway Trust Fund faces a shortfall of between $78 billion and $120 billion, a gap almost impossible to close with a funding mechanism that is bringing in less revenue than ever, Burnley said.
Early in his administration, President Trump said he favored the idea of an increase in the federal fuels tax, and went so far as to say in a meeting with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that he would provide political cover to get it done. However, any hope of bipartisanship effectively ended in January, when Democrats officially took control of the House, Burnley said.
While President Trump may see the value in raising the motor fuels tax, he's "not going to jump off the cliff by himself," especially when so many Republicans are opposed to the tax hike, Burnley said.